Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Hit and run is generally treated as a felony charge only if the accident caused an injury to another person. Leaving the scene of an accident that only causes property damage is usually treated as a misdemeanor.
In some states, the amount of property damage can also turn a misdemeanor hit and run into a felony. The severity of the injuries can increase the penalties of a conviction.
Many states use this distinction, including:
California is a state that draws the line at a serious bodily injury, instead.
The California laws that describe both felony hit and run and misdemeanor hit and run forbid drivers from willfully leaving the scene of a crash that they reasonably should have known had caused an injury or property damage. If the crash only caused property damage, it will be charged as a misdemeanor.1 If it caused an injury, it is
If the injury was a permanent and serious injury or a fatal one, it will almost always be prosecuted as a felony.3 If the injury was not fatal or serious, law enforcement can charge it as a misdemeanor.4
Colorado is similar to California. There, it is a misdemeanor hit and run to leave the scene of a crash that produces property damage or a non-serious injury. It is only a felony offense if the accident caused a serious injury.5
Colorado is unlike California, though, in that it makes the crime a more severe type of felony if the accident caused a death.6 Convictions for a fatal hit and run in states like Colorado can carry more than a decade in prison.
Finally, some states make hit and run a felony if there was an injury, or if the property damage was over a certain value.
Arkansas is an example. There, hit and run is a felony if it caused:
Hit and run cases can be filed alongside other violations of the penal code, such as
When hit and run defendants are accused of a crime like this, it is even more important to establish an attorney-client relationship with a skilled criminal defense lawyer or hit and run lawyer and to get their legal advice on how to proceed.
A hit and run is a car accident where the driver fled the scene of the crash. By fleeing the scene, the driver can deprive the injured victim of an important source of assistance. Fleeing the scene can also make it much more difficult for the victim or the owner of any damaged property to know who did it.
In California, a hit and run offense involves the following 4 “elements of the crime“:
That assistance depends on the severity of the crash. If there was only property damage, it may only require the driver to exchange information with the owner of the property, including the driver’s:
If someone was hurt, it requires providing reasonable assistance to the victim. It also requires providing more information about the driver, including:
Failing to do this can lead to hit-and-run charges.
Dogs and other pets are generally considered to be the personal property of the owner. This means that hitting the animal amounts to property damage.
In some states, including California, leaving the scene of the accident with a pet would likely be a misdemeanor.12
In other states, like New York, it is only a traffic infraction.13
Felony hit and run charges are punishable with more than a year in prison. If the accident was a fatal one, the potential prison sentence can be far longer.
California is a state that does not distinguish between hit and run accidents that produce injuries and those that lead to fatalities. Instead, law enforcement has the discretion of pursuing felony or misdemeanor charges, based on the severity of the injury. If pursued as a felony, the potential penalties are:
In states like Colorado that differentiate between hit and run crashes that hurt someone and those that kill someone, the difference in potential penalties can be considerable.
There, if the accident caused a serious injury, it is a class 4 felony that carries:
If the accident is a fatal one because the injured person dies, it is a class 3 felony that carries:
Felony hit and run convictions can also lead to
By hiring a criminal defense attorney from a local law firm with a track record of good case results, defendants can raise effective legal defenses and try to beat these serious criminal charges.
Misdemeanor hit and run charges carry less than a year of jail time.
In California, if the accident produced a non-serious injury and is charged as a misdemeanor by law enforcement, a conviction will carry:
If the accident only caused property damage, like if the driver hit a parked car, a conviction can carry up to:
Even if it was just a misdemeanor, though, the impact of a hit and run on the driving record of the defendant can be significant. Insurance companies will also be able to see the incident and will likely charge the owner of the vehicle higher prices for car insurance.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.